New Trends in Terrorism
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On 25 November 2022, the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) organised a brainstorming session on the “New Trends in Terrorism”, focussing on the lessons learned from the 2008 Mumbai Terror attacks. Under the Chatham House Rules, the discussion was chaired by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF. It was categorised into various themes/aspects of terrorism— i) Geographical, ii) Ideological, iii) Technological, iv) Economical, v) Coastal Security, and vi) International Counter-Terrorism Efforts. The eminent speakers— Dr Gulshan Rai, Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd), Dr Adil Rasheed, Col Vivek Chadha (Retd), Vice Admiral Satish Soni (Retd), and Mahaveer Singhvi, shared their respective observations on the lessons learned from the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and what are the present & will be the future trends in terrorism.

In his opening remarks, Dr Gupta highlighted the recent trends of terrorism and extremism, including the banning of the Popular Front of India (PFI) and underling of the extremism threat, which is continuously morphing and, at times, challenging to deal with. Mentioning the three major counter-terrorism (CT) conferences hosted by Bharat in 2022— i) 19th INTERPOL General Assembly, ii) UNSC’s Counter-Terrorism Committee— Delhi Declaration, and iii) 03rd ‘No Money For Terror (NMFT)’ Ministerial Conference on Counter-Terrorism Financing, Dr Gupta said that due to dynamic international and regional environment, mainly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the threat of terrorism is ever-present. Because of non-consensus on the definition of terrorism and politics of terrorism— “good terrorist and bad terrorist”, the international community has failed to counter the threat. The role of social media and emerging technologies in terrorism cannot be neglected, as the information or communication linkages among terrorist groups are operating on Dark Web.

In reference to the geopolitical aspects, the speaker highlighted that terrorism in South-East Asia is more regional and did not cross the threshold, whereas South Asia has its challenges, such as demographic issues and the use of ideology for terrorism, which are continued to date. The second term of the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks, the Israel-Palestine conflict and its effects in West Asia are some events which promote terrorism. However, the emergence of the Islamic State (IS)/Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)/Daesh in 2014 surprised the entire world. Post- Wuhan virus pandemic, the sudden change in the geopolitical environment where the world is looking at various issues such as Climate Change, Food Security, and Economic Security, it seems that the ‘first cycle’ of global terror has come to an end. The concern is when the ‘second cycle’ of global terror will be and how it will affect us. Our security forces and intelligence fraternity's synchronised efforts have kept the nation safe and secure. Bharat is doing well on de-radicalisation or counter-radicalisation programmes, but the framework can be much more conducive through the optimum use of social media and evolving communication strategies.

After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, the US could not understand who the Taliban are and what is their ideology; therefore, the US left the war-torn country after negotiations, despite knowing the presence of al-Qa’ida and IS in Afghanistan. Highlighting the ideological differences among terror groups, the speaker informed the audience that unlike al-Qa’ida and IS, who are Salafist jihadists, the Taliban are Hanafi Deobandi. Does the ideology matter strategically? Hanafi/Deobandi jihadists are taught that it is their Islamic and primary duty to defend their nation, unlike the concept of jihad among Salafi Jihadi. Taliban claims to fight for Pashtuns and now for the entire of Afghanistan as Hanafi Deobandi identifies nation/state identity. The Taliban are open to negotiations with their adversaries, be they Muslim or non-Muslim; a negotiation in Doha Accord is an example. The presentation underlined the requirement of a deep understanding of Islam and its differences from jihad and other sects. Such understanding should be the basis of Bharat’s counter-radicalisation/de-radicalisation programmes.

In the session on the economic aspects of terrorism, the speaker highlighted that most of the time, the money inflow into terror is from an illicit charity based on deception, where the donor could not identify the organisation or the cause. The money-collecting mechanism in the name of Islam or charity for the betterment of poor people may not necessarily go to the poor. The speaker revealed that corruption prepares an enabling mechanism for crime because of the interlinkages between corruption, organised crime, and terror funding. The restriction on the inflow of money will not contain the terror strike but crush the network of money. On the use of virtual currencies in terrorist activities, the drawback is that most countries do not have a law on virtual currencies. Even if laws are in place, they are not effectively implemented, and terror organisations exploit such gaps.

The eminent speaker informed the audience that according to an estimate, around 90 per cent of the internet traffic is encrypted, including communication at the mobile device level and various stages. To address the technological aspect of terrorism, there is a need to deal with the challenge of encrypted communication. Along with encrypted communication, DarkNet/DarkWeb pose a challenge when it comes to monitoring money laundering and communication among terror groups; also, where toolkits or ransomware programmes are available, which can be exploited by terrorist organisations. Terrorists and criminals use technologies and platforms created for the benefit of the human race to execute their activities. Under the technological framework, monitoring the platforms is a requirement, and Bharat must effectively utilise the potential of technology. As metaverse and blockchain are used in every application, we must work on setting up an environment to check on terror and other criminal activities in the digital space.

The modern era is of grey-zone warfare, where we cannot ignore the presence of an asymmetric threat from the sea. The speaker highlighted the lessons learned from the unfortunate event of 2008 Mumbai attacks, including Bharat’s maritime preparedness and some recommendations. Considering the seriousness of maritime security post-Mumbai attack, the National Committee on Strengthening Maritime Coastal Security (NCSMCS) was set up under the aegis of the Cabinet Secretary for policies and operational coordination, Coastal Security Network (CSN) and Command, Control & Communication Intelligence Network (3CIN) was also set up along with other measures. All these measures were fed into the IMAC and various Headquarters so that all operational authorities are aware of events at a given time. According to the data from the Information Fusion Centre (IFC), armed robbery, poaching of fishing, drug trafficking, or illegal migration are very much occurrences. Threats from the sea, such as mini-submarines, hijacking of oil tankers, and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism via maritime, are likely future trends. In modern warfare, threats from the extensive use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in various situations, Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) are very likely to stay.

In his concluding remarks, Dr Arvind Gupta thanked speakers for sharing their respective experiences and observations on the new trends of terrorism. He emphasised that Bharat must work towards effectively implementinga framework where the role of ideology and technology and the importance of communication strategies and coordination is concerned.

Event Date 
November 25, 2022

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